For many cyclists the golden era of cycling was the late 1970s and early 1980s. Eddy Merckx had crushed all those who stood in his path and he did it with style, on bikes that now look distinctly cool whilst wearing cycling clothing, that while it may not have been the best in technical terms, was certainly the best in style terms. He was followed by a French renaissance with Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon bringing a certain Gallic flair to the sport as technology started to have more impact on the outcome of bike races.
In today’s era of carbon fiber and near disposable bike frames in the rush towards ever lighter equipment many cycling fans remember fondly the bikes of yesteryear. Made from steel tubes the bike frames were plain looking by today’s standards. Their regular diamond shame and small tube diameters meant there was little to set apart one frame from another until you climbed on one and rode it for yourself. The steel bikes of yesteryear had a certain undeniable soul to them, especially compared to today’s harsh aluminum rides and dead carbon frames.
Its possible to find old steel frames to restore from sites such as Retro Cycling Vintage for not very much money. If the frame needs a respray its easy enough to strip off any remaining components such as the bottom bracket or headset and take it to a paint shop where they will first strip the existing paint off and then paint on a new coat and enamel. It is even possible to approach the original manufacturer to obtain the original decals which can then be applied to the frame to return it to its original state.
For componentry it’s a good idea to stick with a groupset from the same era – some fittings such as the space for the rear axle have changed over the years in order to fit in wheels with more gears on them and this can lead to the frame being bent out of shape to accommodate newer 10 speed wheels in older frames. Campagnolo, Shimano and Suntour were all popular groupsets from this era and can all be tracked down via specialist retro cycling websites. Gear shifting will usually be via levers mounted on the downtubes rather than through the brake levers although groupsets from 1987 onwards will probably have ‘indexed’ levers with a ratchet mechanism providing a firmer and more responsive shift.
Wheels from this era were generally metal box section rims with either 28 or 32 spokes laced 3 cross although occasionally radially spoked wheels were used on the front, especially for time trials. For racing tubulars were popular although for everyday riding clincher rims that take regular tyres and tubes can be more convenient.
Pedals is one area of personal choice where it’s not always easy to go with the retro flavour – so many of us have now got used to modern clipless pedals that it can seem daunting going back to old fashioned pedals with clips and straps. Especially when it means getting used to loosening toe straps off at the approach to traffic lights. Coupled with the need for another pair of shoes with an old fashioned cleat it can be easier to stick with modern look or SPD style pedals even if it does mean the look of the bike is compromised slightly.
You should be able to expect the weight of your assembled retro bike to be near the 21lbs mark if you build it up with an eye on the scales. Remember though, carbon forks are out so if you want to save weight you’ll be looking at lighter handlebars, a lighter bottom bracket and a lighter saddle from the same period, even if it does take you a while to get comfortable on it!